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Unforgettable: Photos Capture The Night Marilyn Monroe Serenaded President Kennedy

White House / AP

If you're of a certain age, or just don't watch much reality TV, it can be hard to get excited about the latest Kardashian sister to give birth.

I know I sometimes have a hard time telling the Duggars apart from the Alaskan Bush People.

In fact, my knowledge of celebrities is pretty limited.

I grew up watching movies from Hollywood's golden age, with stars like Cary Grant and Rock Hudson.

And of course I loved movies starring the great actresses, like Carole Lombard and Marilyn Monroe.

That's why I was so fascinated by these photos of Monroe's final public appearance: the night she sang "Happy birthday" for President Kennedy.

A night to remember

Marilyn Monroe JFK birthday
The crowd inside Madison Square Garden...Bill Ray
Marilyn Monroe JFK birthday
And the crowd outside, hoping to spot the president and his celebrity guests.Bill Ray

If you were one of the 15,000 people invited to the fundraiser at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, you were incredibly lucky.

John F. Kennedy
The fundraiser was a star-studded birthday party for President Kennedy.Bill Ray

Called "New York's Birthday Salute to President Kennedy," the star-studded event's schedule was chock full of huge names.

Celebrities like Jack Benny and Henry Fonda mingled with the crowd.

Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald
Peggy Lee and Ella FitzgeraldBill Ray

There were performances by hit musicians including Danny Kaye, Peggy Lee, and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald - a close friend of Monroe's.

But all of the celebrities were overshadowed as movie star Marilyn Monroe - then 35 - took to the stage in a white fur coat.

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe Estate

"Happy birthday Mr. President"

The crowd actually gasped as Monroe stepped out of her coat, showing off a figure-hugging, flesh-colored dress.

Marilyn Monroe
Monroe in her famous dress at a party later that night.Cecil Stoughton / Wikimedia Commons

"You could just hear one big breath - a gasp," remembered photographer Bill Ray, "and then it was perfectly quiet."

Monroe sang her famously breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," and left the stage to huge applause.

Marilyn Monroe
A photo of Monroe during her performance.Bill Ray
JFK
Kennedy (center) with his birthday cake after Monroe's performance.Bill Ray

Stepping up to the microphone just after her, President Kennedy joked, "I can now retire from politics, after having had 'Happy Birthday' sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way."

But sadly, the glamorous event became a tragic symbol of Monroe's career just three months later.

The death of a star

The audience at Madison Square Garden had no way of knowing, but they were watching Marilyn Monroe's final performance that night.

Marilyn Monroe death newspaper
Monroe died just months after the famous performance.LA Times

Only three months later Monroe, still at the height of her popularity, was found dead in her home in Los Angeles.

Despite her glamorous image, Monroe had been battling mental illness and substance abuse for years.

Marilyn Monroe Dean Martin
Monroe and Dean Martin on the set of 'Something's Got to Give.'20th Century Fox

With her final film released a year earlier, Monroe had been fired from the set of Something's Got to Give shortly before her death, and was dealing with plenty of negative publicity.

Marilyn Monroe death
Fans leave flowers by Monroe's hand prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater.LA Times

All signs indicate that Monroe probably took her own life, although many of her fans still insist her fatal overdose was an accident.

A rumored affair

In a twist of fate, President Kennedy also died just a year after Monroe's famous performance.

JFK funeral
President Kennedy's casket, during his 1963 funeral.Abbie Rowe - Wikimedia

Kennedy was shot and killed during a visit to Dallas, Texas in 1963.

Before they passed away, and even before Monroe serenaded Kennedy, rumors swirled that the star and the president were an item.

Marilyn Monroe JFK
This photo of Monroe between Bobby Kennedy (left) and President Kennedy (right) is the only image of the pair together.Cecil Stoughton - Wikimedia

While there's no hard evidence that Monroe and Kennedy were romantically linked, the president was a notorious cheater.

He even had an affair with a white house intern.

As Jerry Blaine, a former Secret Service agent for President Kennedy, said, he "never saw any evidence of an affair… but I don’t know what happened behind closed doors."

While Monroe and Kennedy's famous moment is marked by tragedy, the dress Monroe wore that night has also made history.

The dress

While Monroe's performance was a legendary moment for history and entertainment, it was also a fashion milestone.

Monroe stunned the audience at Madison Square Garden because at the time her "naked dress" was cutting edge.

Marilyn Monroe
Monroe had to be sewn into her famous nude dress.Marilyn Monroe Estate

The dress, made from souffle gauze and 6,000 hand-sewn rhinestones, was so tight that the actress had to be sewn into it before her performance.

And while the dress marked the end of Monroe's career, it was one of fashion designer Bob Mackie's earliest creations.

Marilyn Monroe dress
The dress features 6,000 hand-sewn rhinestones.Robbie Reynolds

Mackie, who would go on to design a number of memorable outfits for Cher, was just 21 when he sketched the iconic outfit.

A record-breaker

Long after her death, Monroe is still one of Hollywood's most profitable stars.

And in 2016 she proved once again that her fans will pay anything for a piece of Monroe history.

Marilyn Monroe dress
Julien's Auctions

That year, the "Happy Birthday Dress" sold at auction for $4.8 million.

Not only was it the most expensive dress over sold, but it broke the previous record set by another Marilyn Monroe dress.

Marilyn Monroe the Seven Year Itch
20th Century Fox

The dress Monroe wore for her famous air vent scene in The Seven Year Itch sold for $4.6 million.

"The dress is part of our political history but it's also Hollywood, glamour, fashion," the president of Julien's Auctions said about the famous outfit.

"The dress is a work of art in its own right."

Share this story if you'll always be a Marilyn Monroe fan!

[H/T: Time, Telegraph, Ripley's]

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories. CONTACT: zachary@shared.com